222 F.3d 488 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-3007, Lemonds v. St. Louis County

Docket Nº:99-3007, 99-3930
Citation:222 F.3d 488
Party Name:RICH LEMONDS; RICH HALBMAN, PLAINTIFFS/APPELLANTS, v. ST. LOUIS COUNTY, A COUNTY HAVING A CHARTER FORM OF GOVERNMENT; CITY OF PEERLESS PARK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; DUDLEY MCCARTER, TRUSTEE FOR THE CITY OF PEERLESS PARK; BLANCHE SUTHERLAND, DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES, DONNA ASBERRY; JOHN ASBERRY; LISA CHAMBERS; MARY CORBETT; KEVIN GRADY; ELISABETH KREMI
Case Date:August 03, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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222 F.3d 488 (8th Cir. 2000)

RICH LEMONDS; RICH HALBMAN, PLAINTIFFS/APPELLANTS,

v.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, A COUNTY HAVING A CHARTER FORM OF GOVERNMENT; CITY OF PEERLESS PARK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; DUDLEY MCCARTER, TRUSTEE FOR THE CITY OF PEERLESS PARK; BLANCHE SUTHERLAND, DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES,

DONNA ASBERRY; JOHN ASBERRY; LISA CHAMBERS; MARY CORBETT; KEVIN GRADY; ELISABETH KREMINSKI; FRANK KREMINSKI; MIKE MCCOLE; SUSAN MCCOLE; GREG LASKY; JOSEPH OTZENBERGER; ELAINE OTZENBERGER; THADDEUS OTZENBERGER; ARTHUR OTZENBERGER; ROSEMARIE OTZENBERGER; RITAMARIE OTZENBERGER; MELVIN SUTHERLAND, INTERVENOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES.

RICH LEMONDS; RICH HALBMAN, PLAINTIFFS/APPELLANTS,

v.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, A COUNTY HAVING A CHARTER FORM OF GOVERNMENT; CITY OF PEERLESS PARK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; DUDLEY MCCARTER, TRUSTEE FOR THE CITY OF PEERLESS PARK; DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES,

DONNA ASBERRY; JOHN ASBERRY; LISA CHAMBERS; MARY CORBETT; KEVIN GRADY; ELISABETH KREMINSKI; FRANK KREMINSKI; MIKE MCCOLE; SUSAN MCCOLE; GREG LASKY; JOSEPH OTZENBERGER; ELAINE OTZENBERGER; THADDEUS OTZENBERGER; ARTHUR OTZENBERGER; ROSEMARIE OTZENBERGER; RITAMARIE OTZENBERGER; MELVIN SUTHERLAND; BLANCHE SUTHERLAND, INTERVENOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES.

No. 99-3007, 99-3930

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 3, 2000

Submitted: April 12, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

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Before Wollman, Chief Judge, Magill, Circuit Judge, and Frank,1 District Judge.

Wollman, Chief Judge.

Rich Lemonds and Rich Halbman (appellants) appeal from the district court's 2 denial of their requests for a preliminary injunction and for leave to file a third amended complaint. Appellants also appeal from the dismissal with prejudice of their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. We affirm.

I.

On December 11, 1997, eighteen registered voters living in Peerless Park, Missouri, filed a petition with the St. Louis County Council (the council) requesting that their small city be disincorporated. 3 The council, having determined that a total of twenty-seven registered voters resided in Peerless Park, concluded that the petition met the requirements of Missouri Statutes section 79.495, which calls for the disincorporation of a "fourth class city" having a population of less than one hundred people upon petition by two thirds of that city's voters. Accordingly, the council ordered the requested disincorporation and appointed a trustee to represent the former city.

Shortly after this order was issued, the former city and two of its former officials challenged the disincorporation in the Missouri Circuit Court for St. Louis County (the state court). The complaint, which named St. Louis County and several members

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of the council as defendants, sought to reverse the disincorporation primarily on the grounds that the petition was actually a request for a "boundary change," and that, as such, it was reviewable by the state Boundary Commission and required an open public election under Missouri law. The complaint further alleged that the council's order was "voidable" because section 79.495 violated the federal Due Process Clause by failing to provide for notice of an impending petition drive. The state court rejected the boundary change argument, upheld the constitutionality of the statute, and found that the statute's requirements had been met. The court entered judgment against the former city and its former officials. This decision was affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals. Neither appellant was a party to the state court action.

One week prior to the state appellate court affirmance, appellants - residents of Peerless Park who were not registered to vote when the petition was circulated - filed this section 1983 action in federal district court against the County, the city of Peerless Park, and the city's trustee. The federal complaint alleged that the statutory scheme permitting disincorporation without an election violates both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. The complaint asserted that both appellants were "qualified" voters and that, had they been notified that the petition was being circulated, they would have registered so that they would be counted toward the total number of voters residing in the city. As it was, both appellants registered to vote on December 12, 1997, the day after the petition was filed with the council; it is undisputed that, had either of them done so previously, the number of signatures on the petition would have been insufficient to effectuate disincorporation. Appellants sought a preliminary injunction, declaratory judgment, and permanent injunctive relief voiding the disincorporation of Peerless Park.

The district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction on June 19, 1999, and dismissed all claims with prejudice on October 15, 1999. The court found that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, that appellants lacked standing to raise their claims in any event, and that the suit was barred by res judicata principles and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Timely appeals were taken from both decisions, as well as from the court's August 24, 1999, denial of leave to file a third amended complaint adding four new plaintiffs. These appeals have been consolidated.

II.

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine recognizes that, with the exception of habeas corpus petitions, lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to state court judgments. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923). Instead, federal jurisdiction to review most state court judgments is vested exclusively in the United States Supreme Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1257; Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486. Because the Rooker-Feldman rule is jurisdictional, it may be addressed for the first time on appeal and may be raised sua sponte. See Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Distajo, 107 F.3d 126, 137 (2d Cir. 1997). We review questions of subject matter jurisdiction de novo. See Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 982-83 (8th Cir. 1995).

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine forecloses not only straightforward appeals but also more indirect attempts by federal plaintiffs to undermine state court decisions. Thus, a corollary to the basic rule against reviewing judgments prohibits federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over general constitutional claims that are "inextricably intertwined" with specific claims already adjudicated in state

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court. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482 n.16; Fielder v. Credit Acceptance Corp., 188 F.3d 1031, 1034 (8th Cir. 1999); Neal v. Wilson, 112 F.3d 351, 356 (8th Cir. 1997). A general federal claim is inextricably intertwined with a state court judgment "if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issue before it." Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 25 (1987) (Marshall, J., concurring). In such cases, "where federal relief can only be predicated upon a conviction that the state court was wrong, it is difficult to conceive the federal proceedings as, in substance, anything other than a prohibited appeal of the state-court judgment." Id. The state and federal claims need not be identical. See In re Goetzman, 91 F.3d 1173, 1177 (8th Cir. 1996).

Deciding whether Rooker-Feldman controls this case "requires determining exactly what the state court held" to ascertain whether granting the requested federal relief would either void the state court's judgment or effectively amount to a reversal of its holding. 4 Charchenko, 47 F.3d at 983; see Snider v. City of Excelsior Springs, 154 F.3d 809, 811 (8th Cir. 1998). In addition to raising state law arguments not at issue in this appeal, the state court action sought to invalidate the council's order on the basis of the federal Due Process Clause. The complaint alleged that section 79.495 violates both substantive and procedural due process principles by failing to ensure that all residents of a fourth class city receive adequate notice prior to the circulation of a disincorporation petition. Resolving this challenge, the state court held:

Because [plaintiffs] have no "life, liberty or property" interest in the continued existence of Peerless Park, . . . there is no constitutional right to notice or a hearing. State law provides, and [plaintiffs] received, more process than [plaintiffs] were due. There is no constitutional right to vote on disincorporation of a fourth class city.

State ex rel. City of Peerless Park, Mo. v. Young, No. 98CC 1146 at 4-5 (St. Louis County, Mo., Cir. Ct., June 15, 1998) (unpublished) (citation omitted), reprinted at App. 414, 419-20. Accordingly, the state court declined to reverse the council's disincorporation order.

Turning to the federal complaint, we begin by noting that the relief sought - to enjoin the disincorporation of Peerless Park - would, as a practical matter, directly nullify the final judgment of the state district court upholding...

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